- The Washington Times - Friday, January 15, 2010

Taliban steps up violence

Military commanders throughout Afghanistan have notified U.S. and allied troops to expect the increase in violence and insurgent attacks to continue during the winter, as additional troops begin arriving in the country as part of the Pentagon’s latest troop surge.

The Taliban insurgents view the recently announced surge of 20,000 troops as a sign they are winning the conflict and plan to step up attacks with the goal of “bringing the fight” to their enemy, said a U.S. military officer in the region.

“They view the surge as a sign of weakness and are being spurred on to step up fighting,” the official said.

Another factor leading to an increased violence during the winter months, when fighting usually subsides due to cold weather, is Pakistan.

Recent Pakistani military operations in insurgent strongholds in Pakistan also have driven greater numbers of Pakistan-based Taliban back into Afghanistan, the officer said. “That’s OK because it gives us the opportunity to kill them here,” the officer said.

U.S. military intelligence also expects to see more improvised explosive device attacks, as well as suicide bombings in Afghanistan, like the deadly attack in a market Thursday that killed 20 people.

“IEDs are going to continue to be one of the weapons to continue to bleed us,” the official said.

START problems

Obama administration arms control officials met with their Russian counterparts in Moscow Thursday, but U.S. officials said Russia remains steadfast in several demands for a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that are opposed by the U.S. side.

The administration has been trying to push through a new treaty to replace the 1991 START pact that expired Dec. 5, but U.S. and Russian officials so far are unable to come to terms.

Ellen Tauscher, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told reporters this week that she could not say for certain that the new treaty will be finished by May.

Ms. Tauscher also disclosed at a breakfast meeting with defense reporters that differences between the United States and Russia remain. The problems include the issue of sharing telemetry data - electronic signals sent from missile flight tests - as well as the issue of U.S. opposition to Russian demands that missile defenses be included in the treaty. Nuclear modernization issues are another area in dispute.

Ms. Tauscher said the United States opposes a call for Russian monitoring of U.S. missile defense interceptors.

Defense officials said the fear is that Russia will gain valuable intelligence data that could be used to counter the missile defenses, as well as concerns the data would leak from Russia to Iran, which in the past has received support for its ballistic missile programs from Russia.

In Moscow on Thursday, William Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, held meetings with Russian officials and said differences on START would be addressed during talks in the next few weeks. He said the two sides were “on the verge” of completing a new pact.

Formal talks are set to resume Jan. 25 in Geneva. However, a U.S. official said it is not clear that the Russians have agreed to return to the negotiating table, since talks broke off last month for the Christmas holiday period.

Worse, there are some signs that a new START treaty could fall victim to Russian politics, the official said.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin may be opposing a new treaty out of concerns that it would boost the political fortunes of President Vladimir Medvedev, who may be emerging as a rival for power.

Mr. Putin said recently that U.S. missile defenses were a major obstacle to an agreement.

China’s sovereignty campaigns

The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific told Congress this week that China is using its military forces to try and gain sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea.

“Motivated by a need for indigenous natural resources and consolidation of self-proclaimed sovereignty limits, the [People’s Republic of China] has reinforced its claims to most of the South China Sea, including the contested Spratly and Paracel Islands,” said Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the Pacific Command in written testimony to the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

As a result, Chinese naval forces have increased patrols throughout the South China Sea region and its warships have “shown an increased willingness to confront regional nations on the high seas and within the contested island chains,” he stated.

“Additionally, China lays claim to the Senkakus, contested by Japan, and contests areas on its border with India,” he said.

The Chinese strategy behind the assertiveness is based on Beijing’s interpretation of international law “in ways contrary to international norms, such as the U.N. Convention for Law of the Sea, and has passed domestic laws that further reinforce its sovereignty claims.”

Last year, China’s naval forces took action against several U.S. naval ocean surveillance ships near Hainan Island and also in international waters near northern China in what the Pentagon called “harassment.” In the Hainan incident, a U.S. Navy warship was dispatched to the region to provide security for the ships, which the Pentagon has said are operating freely in international waters.

China, however, has claimed the ships had violated a 200-mile economic zone claimed by Beijing.

On Taiwan, China’s main sovereignty dispute, Adm. Willard said China is committed to the eventual unification with the island and “has not ruled out the use of force to achieve that goal.”

“In fact, Beijing’s continued military advancements exacerbate the already considerable cross-[Taiwan] Strait combat power imbalance that exists today,” he said, noting that U.S. defensive arms sales to the island require that the United States provide defensive arms and “maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”

“At the United States Pacific Command, we are fulfilling these obligations on a daily basis,” he said.

E-mail Bill Gertz at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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